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Category: Alternative energy

Google investing $94 million in Sacramento-area solar plants

Recurrent Energy solar panel farms

Google announced that it's investing $94 million in solar panel farms in the Sacramento area.

The money will go toward four photovoltaic, or PV, panel farms built by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, owned by tech-giant Sharp, and will help fuel the project alongside funding from investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., said Axel Martinez, Google's assistant treasurer, in a company blog post Tuesday.

The investment pushes Google's portfolio of clean energy investments to more than $915 million, $880 million of which has been invested since January, Martinez said. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Recurrent and Google did not disclose how much Kohlberg Kravis Roberts was investing in the project.

"We're already committed to providing funding this year to help more than 10,000 homeowners install solar PV panels on their rooftops," he said. "But this investment represents our first investment in the U.S. in larger scale solar PV power plants that generate energy for the grid -- instead of on individual rooftops."

Martinez said the effort will produce about 88 megawatts of power, or about the amount of energy needed to power "the electricity consumed by more than 13,000 homes."

The investment is the first in which Google and KKR are partnering, but it is likely not the last, he said.

"We believe investing in the renewable energy sector makes business sense and hope clean energy projects continue to attract new sources of capital to help the world move towards a more sustainable energy future," Martinez said.

The power that will be produced by the four solar farms "is already contracted for 20 years with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District," he said.

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Photo: A Recurrent Energy solar panel farm. Credit: Google

California leads venture funding for electric vehicle technology

Tesla
California is fast becoming a global center for electric-vehicle innovation and jobs.

Businesses in the state collected $467 million in electric vehicle venture capital investment during the first half of this year, or 69% of the global total, according to a study by Next 10, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist F. Noel Perry.

California also is now tied with Michigan, the traditional center of the U.S. auto industry, in the number of patents filed for electric vehicle technology. Both states generated 300 patents for electric vehicle technology from 2008 to 2010.

Globally, California trails only Japan and South Korea in electric vehicle patents and leads other nations, including Germany, Taiwan and France, Perry said.

Employment also is taking off. Tesla Motors has hired 300 workers in California so far this year, bringing its national workforce to about 1,400. It plans to double its employment next year, with most of the jobs coming to an auto factory in Fremont that it is refurbishing to launch production of its Model S electric sedan in 2012.

“We have a huge hiring plan for next year,” said Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources.

Tesla’s growth is starting to trickle to vendors and contractors. Geshuri said Tesla is busy upgrading and building more office space at the Fremont factory.

“That means we will need more carpet, tables and desks, and that has an economic effect on the trade groups that provide those services,” he said.

Other companies, from small electric drive manufacturers to businesses that install electric vehicle charging stations commercially and in homes also are growing rapidly, with many having doubled their workforces or grown even faster this year.

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Paper airplanes with MIT solar technology can make electricity

Paper-solar1

Solar panels come in many forms: Crystalline silicon, thin film, even sprays and transparent plastic. 
Time to add paper to the list.

A research team from the MIT has developed a flexible and extremely thin solar technology that, when printed, looks like an ordinary document ready to be stapled and turned in as homework.

But when wires are clipped to one end of a floppy sheet and set in the sun, it can power an LCD clock display and other small “gizmos,” researchers said. The technology may help push the solar industry away from hulking, expensive installations and toward options that can easily generate renewable electricity anywhere.

Using vaporous “inks” made from common elements rather than pricey, toxic components like tellurium, solar cells are deposited onto plain, untreated paper -- including tissue, tracing paper and even newsprint.

The process, which is similar to the one used to make the shiny interior of potato chip bags, is nearly as simple as ink-jet printing -- just with a vacuum chamber thrown in.

The pages can be molded into paper airplanes and still generate electricity when unfolded. They’re also long-lasting, according to researchers, who tested cells produced last year.

The technology, according to MIT engineers, is cheaper and more adaptable than current commercial solar options that use glass and require heavy support structures. Paper solar cells, they said, could be taped to a wall, attached to laptops or made into window shades and clothing, even laminated to protect against harsh weather.

It’ll be a while before commercialization, since researchers are still working on improving the device’s efficiency from its current 1%. But maybe Apple Inc., which has studied how to create a solar-powered touch screen for its smartphones, should call them up.

The MIT team reported the findings in the Advanced Materials journal this month. Watch the cell being folded below:

 
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Photo: Graduate student Miles Barr hold a flexible and foldable array of solar cells that have been printed on a sheet of paper. Credit: Patrick Gillooly / MIT

Solar panels come in many forms: Crystalline silicon, thin film, even sprays and transparent plastic. 
Time to add paper to the list.
A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a flexible and extremely thin solar technology that, when printed, looks like an ordinary document ready to be stapled and turned in as homework.
But when wires are clipped to one end of a floppy sheet and set in the sun, it can power an LCD clock display and other small “gizmos,” researchers said. The technology may help push the solar industry away from hulking, expensive installations and toward options that can easily generate renewable electricity anywhere.
Using vaporous “inks” made from common elements rather than pricey, toxic compenents like tellurium, solar cells are deposited onto plain, untreated paper – including tissue, tracing paper and even newsprint.
The process, which is similar to the one used to make the shiny interior of potato chip bags, is nearly as simple as inkjet printing – just with a vacuum chamber thrown in.
The pages can be molded into paper airplanes and still generate electricity when unfolded. They’re also long-lasting, according to researchers, who tested cells produced last year.
The technology, according to MIT engineers, is both cheaper and more adaptable than current commercial solar options that use glass and require heavy support structures. Paper solar cells, they said, could be taped to a wall, attached to laptops or made into window shades and clothing, even laminated to protect against harsh outdoor weather.
It’ll be a while though before commercialization, since researchers are still working on improving the device’s efficiency from its current 1%. But maybe Apple Inc., which has studied how to create a solar-powered touch screen for its smart phones, should call them up.
The MIT team reported the findings in the Advanced Materials journal earlier this month.

Madison, Wis., snags Guinness record for longest hybrid parade

Photo: An aerial view of the parade. Credit: Smart Motors Last weekend, a line of 208 hybrid cars snaked through city streets, but not in tree-hugging Berkeley or the technology hotbed of New York.

This was the cheese-loving lake community of Madison, Wis., which scored a Guinness world record on Sunday for the longest hybrid parade.

Apparently, having the highest percentage of people with PhD's wasn’t a good enough record. Bet it feels good beating Belgium, which held the previous title with a measly 140-car event last year.

Starting and ending at the Smart Motors dealership, the 2.1-mile route was crammed with Toyota Priuses, Ford Escape hybrids, Honda Insight hybrids and more, with drivers from 10 states and Canada.

The vehicles, according to organizers, stuck mostly to their electric modes, making it one of the quieter parades in memory.

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Photo: An aerial view of the parade. Credit: Smart Motors

Toyota Prius Plug-in, electric RAV4 showcased at Little Tokyo Design Week

Prius
Toyota’s eco-friendly autos are center stage at a Little Tokyo event this weekend showcasing new technologies and designs from Japan.

Visitors to the Little Tokyo Design Week area can peek inside the Prius Plug-in hybrid, the RAV4 EV battery-electric vehicle and the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid vehicle that are sitting in the plaza beside the Japanese American National Museum.

The Prius Plug-in will be able to run for 13 miles on power from its Lithium-ion battery, according to Toyota. More than 160 of the vehicles are already being driven in the U.S. as a demonstration program before sales start in earnest next year.

Toyota is working with Tesla on the electric RAV4, which is also expected to become available to buyers in 2012. Meanwhile, the automaker plans to spread more than 100 of its advanced fuel-cell vehicles around the country by 2013 through another demonstration program, with hopes of bringing the technology to market by 2015. 

The rest of the event, which lasts through Sunday, involves more than 15 steel storage containers acting as temporary exhibit space.

The Giant Robot retail chain has a makeshift gallery featuring products such as a “crunching dog” USB stick with a model canine doing sit-ups on the end. There’s a “Robot Box,” with various automatons and other machines. Representatives from USC, UCLA and SCI-Arc have their own boxes too.

Near the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, there’s an extended garden set up on stilts with tomatoes, carrots and beans.

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Photo: A Toyota Prius Plug-In on display at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. The model is being exhibited this weekend as part of Little Tokyo Design Week. Credit: Ferdinand Ostrop / Associated Press

Lufthansa launches first daily commercial flights to run partially on biofuel

Lufthansa
Travelers can now make it from Hamburg to Frankfurt in Germany and back using animal fat and plants, as the Lufthansa airline on Friday launched the first daily commercial passenger flights to run on biofuel.

The first flight took off from Hamburg at 11:15 a.m. Central European Time. Aircraft biofuel has been in demonstration phase for years, showing up in test flights by large jets, helicopters and even the Air Force Thunderbirds.

But now the blends are being worked into much heavier rotations. For four daily flights between the cities, Lufthansa will use a 50% biofuel blend in one of the engines of an Airbus A321.

The mixture of jatropha and camelina crops and animal fats was approved for use in jet engines earlier this month by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the reigning decision making body on fuels standards.

The fuel doesn’t require upgrades to existing engines and was sustainably sourced and produced so that no food crops or rainforests were impacted, the airline said. Lufthansa has spent about $9.3 million on biofuel projects so far, it said.

The roughly 250-mile flights will continue for six months as Lufthansa studies the effect of the biofuel blend on aircraft performance. But the company expects the trial run to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 1,500 tons.

Britain’s Thomson Airways has said it plans to operate a flight to Spain this summer using a biofuel mix involving cooking oil. Dutch airline KLM plans to use a similar blend for flights to and from France.

Biofuel will also play a major role in a hypersonic aircraft revealed by EADS last month at the Paris Air Show, which will be able to hop from Tokyo to Los Angeles in 2 1/2 hours.

Around the same time, the Air Transport Assn. of America said that several of its member airlines are gearing up to use fuel made from urban and agricultural waste in the next few years.

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Photo: Lufthansa planes parked at an airport in Munich, Germany. Credit: Joerg Koch/Associated Press

Electric-vehicle maker Think files for bankruptcy in Norway

Think

 

Electric-vehicle maker Think Global has filed for bankruptcy in Norway, its home country.

The company is among the older manufacturers of battery-powered cars, emerging more than 20 years ago and launching its Think City model in 1999. Think has struggled on its own, after being released by Ford Motor Co., which was its owner from 1999 until 2003. 

A court-appointed trustee will manage the company in the interests of creditors, the company said in a statement.

"THINK filed for bankruptcy after failing to attract adequate capital to continue funding operations," the statement said.

"We needed some additional funding, and although we had interested investors, they were not able to come to the table quickly enough," Think spokesman James Andrew told Automotive News Europe.

The all-electric, zero-emission cars can travel 100 miles on a single charge, using lithium-ion batteries made in Indiana, Think said.

But with a price tag above $30,000, the tiny urban car has had to compete against other clean-tech vehicles such as the Nissan leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. Just a few months ago, Think began delivering its first vehicles to the U.S. and had planned to expand the rollout later this year.

A North American subsidiary based in Dearborn, Mich., is not included in the bankruptcy, though the trustee will eventually decide the unit's fate. Initial production on what the company had hoped would be 20,000 cars a year had started last year at a factory in Elkhart, Ind. 

There are 10,000 Think vehicles on the road, the company has said. Some have been adapted as ambulances in the Netherlands, cargo vans in Finland, taxis in Norway, mail carriers in Tokyo or as race cars in Europe.

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Photo: Think's plant in Aurskog, Norway. Credit: Dan Neil /Los Angeles Times 

Pope may get a hybrid popemobile, Vatican says

Popemobile

Papal concerns about excessive consumerism and climate change might have more oomph if delivered from an eco-friendly car.

By the end of the year or early next year, the current popemobile could be replaced by a hybrid, energy-saving Mercedes-Benz for Pope Benedict XVI’s travels abroad, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Associated Press.

The pope has supported greening in other ways, overseeing the installation of solar panels on the Vatican’s main auditorium and chiding world leaders for fumbling climate change talks.

Read more at The Times’ Greenspace blog or see a photo gallery of the popemobile through the years.

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Photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives on his popemobile to celebrate a mass in Serravalle's stadium in San Marino Sunday. Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press

Biofuel-powered EADS hypersonic passenger jet concept debuts at Paris Air Show

EADS The new conceptual passenger aircraft from EADS will be able to get from Tokyo to Los Angeles in 2 1/2 hours by cruising at Mach 4 speeds up in the Earth’s atmosphere. But that’s not what has some environmentalists googly-eyed.

The Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport, proposed by the aircraft manufacturer and Airbus parent at the Paris Air Show this week, would run in part on liquid hydrogen and biofuel.

Demonstration technologies could be ready by the end of this decade, EADS said, though the jet wouldn’t be commercially ready until mid-century.

Read about more clean-fuel developments from the show at the Times’ Greenspace blog.

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Photo: A model of the Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport is prepared on the EADS stand at Le Bourget airport near Paris a day before the opening of the Paris International Air Show. Credit: Eric Piermont / AFP/Getty Images

AAA to launch fast-charging trucks for stranded electric vehicles, Edmunds says

Charging

To combat range anxiety among electric vehicle drivers, AAA plans to launch trucks equipped with fast charger units to rescue battery-powered cars in need of rejuicing.

The motorist group, which provides emergency services to drivers around the country, will unveil the first system at a North Carolina conference in July, according to the AutoObserver blog at Edmunds.com.

Later this summer, the fleet of trucks will start rolling out in selected cities.

Fear of being stranded without power is one of the major roadblocks to electric vehicle adoption. Most drivers will need to spend hours charging vehicles like the Nissan Leaf in their homes.

Massive efforts are underway to install public charging infrastructure in major cities. Some companies, such as Cleveland-based Eaton Corp., have already started developing charger trucks.

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Photo: Heidi Bray, of Olympia, Wash., demonstrates how she charges her Nissan Leaf at the new ECOtality Blink Commercial charging stations in Seattle. Credit: Associated Press / Seattle Times

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